Education: The Hidden Curriculum by Nancy Jachim

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A publication by a professor of social studies at the Inquiry Demonstration Project of the Urban Institute at John Bowne High School in Flushing, NY.



Editor: Jeanne Posner

The teaching of values in the classroom is a controversial topic, with the debate
often centered around the question, "Should teachers assume the function of imparting
specific values to students.''" The column below argues that values "education" is
inevitable, i.e., values concerning relationships and information are inherent in
the symbolic structure and procedures of the classroom environment. The author
applies key principles of general semantics to illustrate the problem and its consequences, and to suggest a more productive approach. Itrustyou willfind her remarks
provocative and, as always, I welcome your comments
—Jeanne Posner



In order to make theflowof my writing as smooth as possible, I shall use the
pronoun "he" when referring to teachers and other adults, and the pronoun "she"
when referring to students.^


HE QUOTATION ABOVE was printed as a footnote in the Bicentennial issue
of the National Council for the Social Studies' Values of the American
Heritage: Challenges, Case Studies and Teaching Strategies. It is an example of
the subtle ways by which values are transmitted through words and other
symbol systems. This is not to say the author of the quotation was aware of
the value-making of his footnote. He probably felt he was being quite sensitive to women in explaining his use of pronouns. Unfortunately his awareness
was superficial. Consequently, he did what he did not want to do.
How is one supposed to know how to be aware of one's values? How was the
author of the quotation to know that our society stereotypes women as children and treats them so? Was he supposed to learn that in school, at home,
or in the streets? What has happened here is that this author has expressed
* Nancy Jachim teaches social studies in the Inquiry Demonstration Project of the Urban
Institute at John Bowne High School, Flushing, New York.


Et cetera • SPRING 1987

one of many intensional values communicated in schools. As long as these
values remain implicit, that is, as long as they are not extensionalized, children are denied the role of full participation in their education.
Dewey said that moral education is indirect.^ Values are involved in education as principles implicit in the different ways of proceeding and producing.
Many teachers are probably unaware of the extent to which their books, curricula and classroom presentations are devoted to the support of dominant political forms.3 Teachers also teach values; their actions, sayings, gestures, books,
seating arrangments, topics for discussion, films, speakers, movies, plays,
assignments, and exams all suggest some things being more important than
others for students to consider.'' There is a regular and hidden curriculumvalues are communicated in the hidden curriculum.
There are two levels to the hidden curriculum-the structure and the content. In the classroom there are the values inherent in the seating arrangements
of the students and the location of the teacher's desk which is usually in the
front with all students facing the teacher and not each other. Before one sits
down in the classroom it is apparent from the physical structure that there is
an authority figure who sits at the bigger desk in the front. We also know that
the interaction will take place between student and teacher and not student
and student. There is also a power structure in the classroom which complements the physical structure. The teacher decides how to relate to the students,
how to maintain control, how to select materials, and how to evaluate the
results.5 Very little, if any, input comes from the students.
The structure of the curriculum also communicates values. First of all, information is gauged according to age-everyone in the eleventh grade, for example, is taught the same information. The information is arranged in separate
and discrete subjects such as history and English. There is no emphasis on
holistic methods such as anthropology and ecology. ^ In the end, there is an
evaluation through the use of exams. In summary, everyone in a certain age
grade must know the same information by a certain time.
The structure of the lessons are value-laden. Through the use of the lecture
and developmental lesson where students are led through a logical sequence
to problems, messages are symbolically communicated. Knowledge results from
learning pre-determined understanding, skills and attitudes in the classroom
which are separate from and antecedent to the learner in time and importance.
One is led to believe that important questions have already been asked and
The content of the curriculum also contributes to the symbolic message
received by all who attend school. (Both teachers and students share the school
environment.) The subject matter, as stated above, is not interrelated. Rarely,
if ever, do we see the history of science in the classrooms. It is also implied
from this that historians have little sense of community with chemists or with
those of other disciplines. Our subjects are named so they imply total truth.
Economics, for example, does not address non-monetary economies, nor



socialist, nor communist economies. Economics means capitalism. Capitalism is all that is worth knowing and if mastered, will lead to being educated.
Nor do we present students with opportunity to do science or history or literature. Most classroom time is devoted to teachers' answers rather than fecilitating
students in answering their own questions.^
In summary, the values symbolically communicated through the structure
and content of most classrooms are 1) content is more important than process,
2) content is objective, 3) convergent thinking is preferable to divergent thinking, 4) education is knowing the answers to pre-determined questions, and
5) authority has the answers to these questions.
In conclusion, we can say that the schools as a whole are value-impregnated.
Since values are involved in education not so much as goals or end-products,
but as principles implicit in different ways of proceeding or producing, there
will be a problem in the development of innovations, as distinct from conventional behavior, if we do not begin to extensionalize these values. In addition,
some think that value discussions may become indoctrinating to the students.
If they are, it will not be the discussion per se, but the manner in which the
discussion takes place. If we are to teach values by involving students emotionally and rationally in the lives of individuals and groups locked in struggles
of significant moral consequence, then the schools are a perfect place in which
to do this. However, to do it honestly will mean a radical change in the way
schools fiinction. It will mean a change from the traditional authoritarian mode
where values are transmitted to a non-authoritarian mode where values result
from shared extensional experience.
1. J.R. Fraenkel, "Teaching About Values" in Values of the American Heritage: Challenges,
Case Studies and Teaching Strategies, C. tJbbelohde and J.R. Fraenkel, eds. (Washington, D.C: National Council for the Social Studies, 1976), pp. 152-213.
2. John Dewey, Moral Principles in Education (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959).
3. Marvin Harris, Culture, People, Nature, Second Edition (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell,
4. Fraenkel, "Teaching About Values," op. cit., pp. 152-213.
5. J.M.Rkh, Education and Human f^/«« (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1968).
6. Elizabeth M. Eddy, "The Re-organization of Schooling: An Anthropological Challenge,"
in Applied Anthropology in America, E.M. Eddy and W.L. Partridge, eds. (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1978). pp. 326-349.
7. H. Rice, "The Myth ofthe Developmental Lesson" Association of Teachers of Social Studies
ofthe United Federation of Teachers Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 5 (1986), pp. 4-5;14.
8. Wendell Johnson, "How to Ask a Question," Et cetera, A Review of General Semantics, Vol.
XL, No. 3 (Fall, 1983) pp. 278-285).

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